Antti Karppinen is a digital artist, photographer, retoucher, and instructor from Finland with a unique eye for visual storytelling through photography. His work relies on traditional photography skills combined with an active imagination and complex Photoshop editing work to create fantastical images. He spoke with me about his work, process, and the inspiration behind a couple of his most popular composites.
Karppinen says that 95% of the time he previsualizes the final image with the aid of mood boards and wireframe sketches before he shoots, allowing him to stage and light his scenes in the field with the composite elements in mind. He uses a minimal setup of two lights with various gels to create the right look and feel.
In the case of the "Burning Man" image, Karppinen knew he would add in a full moon on the left side so he gelled his main light on the pier to blue to achieve the best base tone. The second light placed in the boat was gelled to orange "as a reference to see how the light would act so I wouldn't have to build the fire and glow from scratch in post." The fire was built slowly in layers in Photoshop with care taken to precisely render the smoke, glow, and reflections.
Karppinen has a background in stock photography with an extensive library of elements that he can reuse like the moon, fire, and smoke used in the "Burning Man" image. If he doesn't have the right element in his library and can't shoot it himself, he peruses stock photography websites to purchase what he needs.
In the case of "Endless," Karppinen looked to the work of M.C. Escher, specifically his famous lithograph of the Penrose steps. Karppinen built up the structure in layers in Photoshop, starting with basic lines, and slowly adding color and texture to create the stone and flowing water. He dropped the structure onto a cloud background and blended in clouds into and through the steps to make everything seem seamless. He fit in a picture of his son playing with a paper boat and added angel wings as it fit the final mood. Of course, Karppinen didn't like the idea of his son as an angel due to the implication. He says that while he originally had previsualized the basic scene, he hadn't planned on the heaven depiction of the sky and wings on his son. Though the final image gave him pause, he has seen positive feedback from people around the world who see their own life events for good and bad in the scene.
In my opinion, the most important facet of this kind of work is the initial inspiration and previsualization of the image. The genesis of "Burning Man" came from a friend of Karppinen who had recently gone through a difficult time after being let go from his job. The friend started to write about his experience and asked Karppinen to visualize his story. Karppinen thought of a phoenix story with the man reborn from the ashes of his negative experience.
Karppinen's images have a cinematic look to them and indeed he finds inspiration in movies, specifically movie posters. He says, "I love looking at movie posters and the idea of explaining a concept or storyline in a single image. My color palette comes from them as well, with the balance of orange and cyan, warm and cold."
All images used with permission of Antti Karppinen